by Lucas Shaw, Mary Schlangenstein, and Michael Sasso
The U.S. government said it was taking steps to restore order to the global air transport industry after a weekend of chaos following President Donald Trump’s travel ban on seven predominantly Muslim countries.
Permanent U.S. residents from nations covered by Trump’s order should no longer be detained at American airports and no one covered by the ban should be getting on planes overseas, the Department of Homeland Security said.
The agency’s statements late Sunday were attempts to rectify a weekend of confusion in which everyone from travelers to airline gate crews to immigration officers were left to contend with conflicting edicts. On one side was Trump’s order suspending travel from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Libya. On the other: three U.S. court orders blocking parts of the ban.
Crowds of thousands gathered from New York to Atlanta to Detroit on Sunday to protest the travel restrictions. At Los Angeles International Airport, demonstrators crowded into the terminal for foreign flights and snarled traffic outside.
“Everything is backlogged,’’ said Jose Miranda, who oversees the arrivals hall at the airport. “The passenger flow can’t come out as it normally can.’’
In the hours after the presidential edict, many airports imposed blanket bans on U.S. travel for citizens from the affected countries. Students, refugees and dual citizens were stuck overseas or detained and some businesses warned employees from those countries not to risk leaving the U.S.
There were wrenching scenes — and angry protests — at major airports across the U.S. before the court orders were issued. At New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, thousands protested outside the international arrivals terminal Saturday chanting, “Let them in!” and “No hate! No fear! Immigrants are welcome here!”
Amsterdam Schiphol turned away seven people with valid visas, and Cairo denied boarding to migrants accompanied by United Nations officials. Some passengers were returned to where their flights began after being denied entry to the U.S.
“There are people who boarded flights to the U.S. and were sent back,’’ said a woman who works on the ground staff at Dubai airport. “They left before the decision was made. Then they yelled at us after a 16-hour flight each way and some hassling over there.’’
Airlines around the world gave out conflicting information on the rules and what advice the U.S. government provided on how to implement them. In a call late Jan. 27, Customs and Border Protection officials told carriers that permanent U.S. residents from the affected countries were exempt from the ban, people familiar with the matter said on Sunday. That contradicted what some government officials said on Saturday.
After three federal judges temporarily blocked parts of the order over the weekend, the Trump administration said Sunday that permanent U.S. residents from the countries would be allowed in. In a statement, Homeland Security said that because it’s now working with airlines to prevent travelers from boarding planes overseas if they would be denied entry, “we do not anticipate that further individuals traveling by air to the United States will be affected.”
“We are committed to ensuring that all individuals affected by the executive orders, including those affected by the court orders, are being provided all rights afforded under the law,” the agency said in the statement.
Airports like Heathrow, Amsterdam and their Persian Gulf counterparts were especially affected by the presidential instruction because the seven countries affected have few or no direct U.S. flights, compelling people from those states to fly via such major hubs.
A Delta Air Lines Inc. supervisor at Heathrow said staff had been briefed on the matter Sunday and suggested the situation had become clearer but that travel was still being limited to holders of green cards and diplomatic visas. The U.S. carrier will refund anyone refused travel, the official said, adding that the carrier had so far turned away some travelers while finding it hard to explain.
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In the Gulf, Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways PJSC and Emirates of Dubai are advising that passengers from the seven nations targeted by Trump can fly to the U.S. if they hold green cards or NATO visas, or are diplomatic officials or UN representatives. Abu Dhabi-based Etihad also said people of dual nationality may travel if they hold a passport from a country not affected by the ban and have a visa.
At the same time, the carriers made no mention of travel by ordinary citizens of the seven countries who have valid visas, or refugees from those nations, who should be permitted under a nationwide order from a Brooklyn, New York, court.